"Gau Seva Dal" (cow protection group) protesting in New Delhi on March 1 demanding that the government declare the cow, a revered animal in orthodox Hinduism, as the national animal of India. (ucanews.com photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)
While Prime Minister Narandra Modi has spoken out against "cow vigilantism" violence in India, church officials say his response is politically motivated and is "too little, too late."
In the past few months the media have reported several brutal attacks by Hindu activists against Dalits, Christians and Muslims. The violence is a response to alleged ill treatment and slaughtering of cows, a revered animal in orthodox Hinduism.
Despite the media showing armed men roaming the streets and brazenly attacking people, the government initially refused to condemn the attacks.
"We are happy that the prime minister has finally spoken out and that he has spoken very strongly," said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.
"But Dalit and minority groups would be happier if action could be seen at the ground level," he said.
Bishop Mascarenhas wanted "stringent punishment" against those who attacked minorities in the name of protecting cows. He also wanted Modi to speak out against Hindu groups and activists who publicly defended the violence.
During a recent public meeting Modi condemned cow vigilantism and called for fake "gau rakshaks" (cow protectionists) to be isolated and punished. He said a handful of people were destroying the social fabric of India and creating conflict.
He wanted genuine gau rakshaks "to come forward lest your good work is destroyed by a handful of people and their selfish interests."
Some say Modi's response is politically motivated. It comes ahead of elections where Dalit votes are important in key states and barely a week after the chief minister of Gujarat was replaced following unprecedented Dalit unrest caused by cow vigilante violence.
Four Dalit men were stripped, tied and publicly flogged on July 11. The men were alleged to have been illegally trading cowhides and the vigilantes uploaded a video of the attack on YouTube. Nationwide condemnation of the video forced Modi to stand down the chief minister in his home state.
Samuel Jayakumar of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) believes Modi's words are "politically motivated."
"It is just to pacify the Dalits and other minorities. Keep in mind that an election is coming next year in Uttar Pradesh," Jayakumar said.
Jayakumar, an officer of the NCCI, a forum of Protestant and Orthodox Churches, noted Modi has not mentioned similar attacks on Muslims.
Mary John, a Dalit Christian leader believes Modi's "finally spoke" to assuage Dalit's concerns, lest the party be seen as anti-Dalit, a crucial voting bloc in several states.
Modi's words are "too little, too late," he said. "But if they are serious they should act now."
Nearly 20 percent of India's 1.2 billion people belong to Dalit groups. The Sanskrit term Dalit means "trampled upon" and denotes the former untouchable castes within Indian society.